Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In a suit challenging the emergency temporary standards (ETS) promulgated by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trial court denied a request for a preliminary injunction suspending enforcement of the ETS. The trial court concluded that the plaintiffs had not shown a likelihood of prevailing on the merits and found the public interest in curbing the spread of COVID-19 weighed “heavily” in favor of ongoing enforcement of the ETS.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court erroneously applied a deferential standard of review, the findings of emergency lacked necessary findings, and the ETS exceeded the Board’s statutory authority. The administrative record demonstrated the Board did not abuse its discretion in adopting prescriptive standards in the ETS; the Board considered performance standards during the rulemaking process, including existing regulations, and concluded certain prescriptive standards were necessary to assure “to the extent feasible, that no employee will suffer material impairment of health or functional capacity.” The Board did not abuse its discretion in establishing regulations excluding workers exposed to COVID-19 cases from the workplace and mandating a continuation of pay, benefits, and seniority during such periods of exclusion. View "Western Growers Association v. Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board" on Justia Law

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Lozano and Mitchell, former Los Angeles police officers, filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate challenging the city’s decision to terminate their employment. A board of rights found the two guilty on multiple counts of misconduct, based in part on a digital in-car video system (DICVS) recording that captured them willfully abdicating their duty to assist a commanding officer’s response to a robbery in progress and playing a Pokémon mobile phone game while on duty.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of relief, rejecting arguments that the city proceeded in a manner contrary to the law by using the DICVS recording in their disciplinary proceeding and by denying them the protections of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (POBRA, Gov. Code 3300). While Department personnel are not subject to discipline for minor infractions or purely private communications unrelated to their police work, commanding officers are not required to ignore egregious misconduct that is unintentionally captured on a DICVS recording. POBRA did not apply because when the sergeant called the officers in to discuss the radio calls, he did not have evidence that the officers had committed a crime or egregious misconduct. View "Lozano v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jason Cirrincione appealed an order denying class certification in a wage-and-hour action he filed against his former employer, defendant American Scissor Lift, Inc. (ASL). On appeal to the Court of Appeal, plaintiff argued reversal was required for a number reasons, including that the trial court’s ruling rested upon improper merits determinations and incorrect assumptions. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of class certification. View "Cirrincione v. American Scissor Lift" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal concluded that the arbitration clause between a job applicant and her prospective employer does not apply to disputes between the applicant and her former employers based on the existence of a business relationship between the prospective employer and the applicant's past employers. Therefore, the arbitration agreement between plaintiff and Expert Staffing West does not apply to disputes arising between her and her former employers. In this case, the court agreed with the trial court that the arbitration agreement between plaintiff and Expert Staffing West did not apply to plaintiff's claims against Essential Seasons and Cool-Pak. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Garcia v. Expert Staffing West" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Matilde Ek (Mrs. Ek), Karla Ek-Elhadidy, Lucila del Carmen Ek, and Maria Ek-Ewell, filed suit alleging that defendants' employee, Mrs. Ek, contracted COVID-19 at work because of defendants' failure to implement adequate safety measures. Plaintiffs claimed that Arturo Ek subsequently caught the disease from Mrs. Ek while she convalesced at home and subsequently died from the disease a month later. Defendants filed a demurrer asserting that plaintiffs' claims are preempted by the exclusivity provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA).The Court of Appeal denied the petition for writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate an order overruling defendants' demurrer to a wrongful death action. Assuming arguendo that Mrs. Ek's workplace infection constitutes an injury for purposes of the WCA, the court rejected defendants' efforts to apply the derivative injury doctrine to any injury causally linked to an employee injury. The court explained that defendants' interpretation is inconsistent with the language of Snyder v. Michael's Stores, Inc. (1997) 16 Cal.4th 991, 1000, which establishes that the fact an employee's injury is the biological cause of a nonemployee's injury does not thereby make the nonemployee's claim derivative of the employee's injury. Furthermore, Snyder's discussion of prior case law applying the derivative injury doctrine does not support applying the doctrine based solely on causation. View "See's Candies, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the denial of his application for appointment to the medical staff of a dialysis clinic. The superior court denied plaintiff's request for a writ of administrative mandate pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5. In this case, the hearing officer, applying burdens specified in the bylaws, concluded that (1) the clinic sustained its initial burden of presenting evidence to support the denial of staff privileges and (2) plaintiff did not sustain his burden of proving that the denial "lacks any substantial factual basis, or is otherwise arbitrary or capricious."The Court of Appeal reversed and concluded that plaintiff is entitled to a writ of administrative mandamus vacating the hearing officer's decision. The court concluded that the burden of proof contained in the medical staff bylaws is not consistent with the preponderance of the evidence standard required by Business and Professions Code section 809.3, subdivision (b)(2). The court also concluded that the statute controls in the event of an inconsistency, the application of the bylaws' more demanding burden of proof constituted procedural error, the error deprived plaintiff of a fair hearing and, therefore, was prejudicial. View "Bichai v. DaVita, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed an order denying certification of a class of persons who worked without pay for American Film Institute (AFI). The court concluded that the trial court acted within its discretion in finding that common issues would not predominate over individual ones. In this case, the putative class members who expected no compensation were not employees under California law; the class that plaintiff moved to certify is broad enough to include persons who expected to be paid; and thus, if the case were to proceed as a class action, the trier of fact would need to decide whether each class member expected to be paid or was in fact a volunteer. View "Woods v. American Film Institute" on Justia Law

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Defendants Pinnacle Property Management Services, LLC (Pinnacle) and Jennifer Stewart (Stewart) appealed a trial court’s order denying their motion to compel arbitration. The court denied the motion because it determined the arbitration agreement was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. As to the former, the court noted the agreement was unconscionable because plaintiff Anthony De Leon was required to sign the arbitration agreement as a precondition to his employment. As to the latter, the court found the agreement was substantively unconscionable because of its limits on discovery and because it shortened the statute of limitations to one year on all claims. On appeal, defendants contended the arbitration agreement had low procedural unconscionability and contained only one substantively unconscionable provision: the statute of limitations provision. They alternatively claimed the court erred by failing to sever any unconscionable provisions. After careful consideration of the agreement at issue, the Court of Appeal agreed with the court’s unconscionability findings. Further, the Court held the trial court also did not abuse its discretion by refusing to sever any portion of the arbitration agreement. View "De Leon v. Pinnacle Property Management Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs (collectively, "Gunther") in this case were flight attendants who alleged their employer, Alaska Airlines, Inc. (Alaska), failed to provide California Labor Code section 226(a)-compliant wage statements. They sought penalties under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). After a bench trial, the trial court concluded that section 226(a) applied to the flight attendants because their employment was based in California and Alaska’s wage statements did not comply with section 226(a). The court found Alaska liable for over $25 million in heightened penalties under section 226.3 of PAGA. In a postjudgment order, the court awarded Gunther attorney’s fees. Notwithstanding the implications of Ward v. United Airlines, Inc., 9 Cal.5th 732 (2020, "Ward I"), Alaska contended that section 226(a) could not be applied to the flight attendants because it was preempted by federal law. Alaska also raised multiple challenges to PAGA penalties, including that the trial court erred in awarding heightened penalties under section 226.3 of PAGA. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal rejected Alaska’s argument that application of section 226 was preempted by federal law and affirmed the trial court’s determination that the flight attendants in this case were entitled to section 226(a)-compliant wage statements. The Court also concluded, however, that the trial court erred in awarding heightened penalties under section 226.3 because the plain language of the statute provided that heightened penalties applied only where the employer failed to provide wage statements or failed to keep required records, which was not the situation here. The Court found reversal of the penalty award did not require vacation of the attorney’s fees award. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court rejected Alaska’s defenses to the application of section 226(a). View "Gunther v. Alaska Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Chavez-Cortez filed a representative cause of action under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA, Lab. Code 2698), seeking civil penalties for wage-and-hour violations. The suit was dismissed for failure to satisfy the requirement of notice to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). Relying on precedent (Khan), the defendants argued that the notice provided did not inform the LWDA “of the claims of any other alleged similarly situated but unidentified individuals” or that Chavez-Cortez “intended to pursue this matter on behalf of these unnamed individuals.”The court of appeal reversed. The notice at issue in Khan differs substantially from plaintiffs’ notice; here, the plaintiffs’ notice alerted the agency and defendants to ongoing Labor Code violations that were not by nature isolated or unique to plaintiffs. The notice was not deficient for failing to reference other aggrieved employees implicated by the representative action. Plaintiffs’ letter provided fair notice to the agency of representative claims for meal breaks, rest breaks, and overtime violations. View "Santos v. El Guapos Tacos, LLC" on Justia Law